Why diesel will continue to power farming despite the drive for zero-emissions vehicles


Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

Apart from the weather these past months, few topics have dominated the talk at marts, or anywhere farmers meet up, as much as the future of diesel.

Pressure on diesel, because of concern to health from its NOx emissions, has been intensifying for years as governments across Europe strive to end the use of fossil-fuelled vehicles in a relatively short time.

"No new non-zero emission vehicles to be sold in Ireland post 2030" - proclaims our National Development Plan (Project Ireland 2040) .

A spokeswoman for Environment Minister Denis Naughten told us some time back the new plan represents a significant "increase in the ambition" from previous policy as it extends the 'electric-only' rule "to all new vehicles".

Taken literally that means sales of new diesel, petrol, hybrid cars, vans, SUVs, 4x4s, large commercials etc will be banned by, or before, 2030. Everything will have to be emissions-free.

How is that going to happen? What does it really mean? And what exactly will happen to diesel and petrol cars?

First off, it is an ambitious target; some call it a pipe dream.

It is reliant on so many factors, not least that sufficient volumes of electric vehicles will, before 2030, be able to cope with the personal and business transport needs of so many - especially those living and working in agriculture.

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In the short-term, the plan is creating serious uncertainty about diesel.

Sales are falling (by 20pc in the first quarter this year); petrol and hybrid buying is rising.

There are individual cases - such as Toyota's announcement that they won't sell any new diesel passenger cars here from 2019 - having a substantial impact on public sentiment.

But we should not panic about diesel just yet.

In theory, new diesel (and petrol and hybrid) cars are dead in 12 years if the Government's plan bears fruit on time. Few are betting it will, though. For one thing, they claim it is madly, overly ambitious in its targets and deadlines.

They point to the daunting task alone of recalibrating a country for electric power.

In the midst of all the uncertainty and speculation a few things remain clear.

People, particularly farmers, rural dwellers and long-commute drivers need an efficient, reasonably-priced method of transport - now and in the future.

Diesel remains alive and kicking for anyone doing 20,000km a year (some hybrids might match them at that level). For many people diesel is a no-brainer and will be for many years.

Trade-in values

It will take a long time for the anticipated wave of new longer-range electric vehicles to be relevant for people putting up big mileage. A long, long time.

Probably the biggest sore spot in the whole diesel debate is the prevailing opinion that its one-time rock-solid trade-in values have plunged. Who wants to buy a car that will lose so much value?

Much of that talk is rubbish.

A good second-hand diesel car, as even hybrid-driven Toyota is at pains to point out, will be in strong demand for many years to come.

Most industry sources, understandably, give diesel a strong presence for a long time.

Ford Ireland chief Ciarán McMahon says they see diesel and petrol vehicles as a key part of their line-up "for the foreseeable future".

He says the feeling of most at an international SAE World Congress in Detroit recently was that the internal combustion engine will continue to dominate the industry for at least the next decade.

Mr McMahon added: "Many of the 'workhorse' vehicles that farmers depend on, such as tractors, 4x4s and commercial vehicles, will continue to be overwhelmingly diesel-based as they are currently the only power-trains that can get the job done for farmers."

SKODA here say electro-mobility will not arrive today or tomorrow.

Until electric vehicles become feasible for the majority of customers they are banking on "an intelligent mix of various drive-train technologies including plug-in hybrid, petrol and diesel".

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